Boeing Plant on Sea Island
Boeing began business operations in Canada in 1929, forming Boeing Aircraft of Canada.
In 1939, at the beginning of WWII, Boeing expanded production and built a manufacturing factory on Sea Island, near the Fraser River. When first opened, the plant employed 175 people and had a payroll of $300,000 per year. The Sea Island plant built PBY Catalina Aircraft for off-shore air patrols, and the middle section of the B-29. Boeing Canada built 362 PBY flying boats and amphibians designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego. The RCAF called the PBY’s “Cansos”. They also built 16 British-designed Blackburn Shark torpedo aircraft purchased by the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Planes built on Sea Island
RCAF PBY-5A Canso
RCAF Boeing Canso 5A plane
Boeing Canada produced 55 PBY-5A “Canso” amphibians for the RCAF and 300 PBY-5 and PBY-6 Catalina Flying Boats under the US Navy designation of PB2B-1 and PB2B-2 for the US Navy and the British Empire.
Boeing employees received awards in a company-sponsored contest to name the last PBY to roll off the Sea Island assembly line. The last batches of PBY Catalinas built by Boeing (40 PB2B-1 and 67 PB2B-2) totalled 107. JZ841 was the last with number 107 on the cowling.
Fuselage of B-29 Bomber
Boeing B-29 Bomber plane
By 1944, the production of the PBY Flying Boats was completed and Boeing Canada began manufacturing the mid-section of the fuselage, including the bomb bay area for the Superfortress (B-29) bomber. The payloads were trucked to Renton, Washington in the US and matched to other pre-built sections for final assembly.
In the CBC video titled Women build airplanes at Vancouver Boeing Plant in 1945, we can see some of the mid-section of the Superfortress being built.
Sea Island Plant Closure
In 1945, at its peak, the Sea Island Boeing Canada plant had 7,000 employees. Immediately after the surrender of the Empire of Japan (V-J Day) on August 14, 1945, Boeing closed the Sea Island plant. This sudden closure left stunned workers scrambling to find work.
Boeing Canada Today
The Boeing Production Plant at the South Terminal of Vancouver International Airport is the one survivor of two built by Boeing Canada on Sea Island during World War II. It is located at 5400 Airport Road South, and is now owned by the Federal Government.
In 1960, the building began operating as Trans Canada Airlines; in 1981, it became Pacific Western Airlines’ maintenance base. Between 1988 and 2005, it had been leased to Com Air.
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